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Meditations on monarchists

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King Charles III and Queen Camilla stand on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their coronation on Saturday (Photograph by Leon Neal/Pool/AP)

With the formal coronation of King Charles III, the media — especially the British — have been full of fawning royalist propaganda. It is extremely difficult to avoid it, especially if you happen to be in Britain at this time.

For a republican like me, this whole thing is an annoyance and, quite frankly, a grotesque affair. For readers who may be confused, let me clarify that I am a republican in the sense of being for a republic — an elected head of state — and not anything associated with the US Republican Party, which has morphed from a general US conservative party to a fascistic movement.

As a republican, it is self-evident to me that our head of state should be elected by the people, and not determined by a birth lottery of whose womb they emerged out of and that they outlived their parents. A monarchy is inherently undemocratic. It does not matter whether the head of state is more ceremonial than absolutist like the present King’s forbearer, Charles I. A head of state should be elected by the people and accountable to the people, not born into the position. All other aspects about value for money, etc, really are irrelevant to this fundamental question of democracy — although I can certainly argue that even those royalist arguments are so much hokum.

Troops march along the Mall in Central London on Saturday after the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla (Photograph by Adrian Dennis/Pool/AP)

It is on this basis that I struggle to understand the motivations of monarchists — at a fundamental level, I question why are there people in a supposed democracy who are slavish defenders of an inherently undemocratic institution? And yes, I’m fully aware that I’m writing this in a newspaper named the “Royal” Gazette.

I suspect that for most monarchists, their monarchism is superficial at best. I mean this in the sense that I have found most people have not critically reflected on institutions or traditions that have existed before them. They simply accept what is and haven’t really considered the issue in any great depth. There has been a monarchy all their lives, we have grown up singing God Save the Queen, the monarch has featured on our currency and stamps, and is peppered throughout our day-to-day in one way or another. People simply haven’t questioned it whatsoever. It has been, and so is, and that’s all there is to it for many who, for want of a better term, I will call lay monarchists. I suspect that me pointing out that a monarchy is inherently undemocratic will be the first time many of these lay monarchists may have ever considered the issue. Some will reflect on it and begin questioning the monarchy — and other things they have unconsciously accepted as legitimate — while others will react against me because it can be uncomfortable to critically reflect on such things.

There are also monarchists whom I consider cynical monarchists. These are the people who fully understand that the institution is inherently undemocratic. However, they justify the perpetuation of this historical relic solely on the basis of profit, be it the direct sale of royalist junk — tacky souvenirs or tabloid journalism to bolster advertising revenue — or the more indirect sense of pandering to American tourists. The monarchy is part of Bermuda’s tourism marketing strategy, be it various aspects of pomp or claptrap, in a sense — we slavishly market our devotion and abdication of democracy for the sake of 30 pieces of silver.

Still for others, I suspect there is an aspect of psychological factors at play, largely unconscious in that those in question may not be even aware of the unconscious motivations guiding their monarchism.

Erich Fromm wrote frequently on the need for individuals to overcome a fear of separateness, of loneliness; indeed, he considered this the deepest need of man, and that the healthiest way to do so is through love — of self, of others, of nature. Other options can include escapism through drug abuse, conformism (herd mentality) and what he called “symbiotic union”. On this latter aspect he argued this could be manifested in forms of either masochism or sadism. The former involves escaping “from the unbearable feeling of isolation and separateness by making himself part and parcel of another person who directs him, guides him, protects him”. That is, they feel whole by being part of something bigger than themselves — be it another person, celebrity, the party, the state or the leader. The latter is the inverse: they seek to “escape from his aloneness and his sense of imprisonment by making another person part and parcel of themselves” — that is, they seek to dominate others. It is not difficult to see the application of this in the sense of monarchism — it is an abdication of self-realisation by being a “subject” of a monarch rather than a self-realised independent person.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla travel in the Gold State Coach from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace after the coronation ceremony on Saturday (Photograph by Alberto Pezzali/AP)

I suspect monarchism also serves some role as an opiate. For those without power — economic power, male privilege, White privilege, etc — it can be attractive to either associate with power or to dull one’s pain with fantasy of fairytale royalty. In a similar vein, I suspect that the monarchy, with its pomp and symbolism, serves as a balm for others who fear losing what power they have. I suspect White middle-class males are particularly susceptible to this. The monarchy compensates for their anxiety and serves as a psychological shield.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla wave from the Royal Box ahead of the concert at Windsor Castle on Sunday (Photograph by Yui Mok/Pool/AP)

The British Empire may be in tatters, what is left of Britain at threat of dissolution, political power no longer dominated by White supremacy, neoliberalism threatening them with pauperisation, and feminism and antiracism threatening what little privilege they have left. But they still have the Crown. That privilege can be based on birth and seen as eternal — such is the monarchy — and gives them some solace, perhaps. A form of escapism or defensive reaction in the face of challenges to what they consider their “power”.

What are your thoughts? Why are monarchists “monarchists” and opposed to democracy and a republic?

Jonathan Starling is a socialist writer with an MSc in Ecological Economics from the University of Edinburgh and an MSc in Urban and Regional Planning from Heriot-Watt University

Jonathan Starling is a socialist writer with an MSc in Ecological Economics from the University of Edinburgh and an MSc in Urban and Regional Planning from Heriot-Watt University

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Published May 09, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated May 09, 2023 at 9:46 am)

Meditations on monarchists

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